GREETING AS FRIENDS: Former President Bush and Bill Clinton.
The story of the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center is a grand enough one if you want it to be: The four presidents assembled on a single stage, the 25,000 or so people — famous and not-so — braving wind and rain to hear them speak, a round of star-studded parties the likes of which Little Rock doesn’t seem likely to see again, the doors of the library building itself finally thrown open to the masses after a seemingly endless communal countdown.
But it’s also a story of anecdotes. Of individual moments and experiences that won’t ever get televised or archived or immortalized beyond small circles of friends.
The celebrities we saw — or, even better, the ones we thought we saw. The amount of mud we scraped off our khakis after the dedication was over. What we discovered former President Clinton did on our birthday in 1999, courtesy of one of the library’s interactive exhibits.
How good it felt to walk around the packed River Market on a beautiful Wednesday night knowing we were at the city’s best party — the one everyone was invited to. (Nature must abhor a closed door, with the nasty weather she sent for the invitation-only dedication Thursday.)
Somewhere in Little Rock there’s a person who may still believe he or she actually saw Oprah arrive Tuesday at the new downtown Courtyard by Marriott in a car she shared with Tom Cruise. That one grew such legs that Jeff McClure, the hotel’s sales director, spent the next two days on the phone trying to track down where she was really staying, so that he could pass on the packages people were leaving for her.
“From what I was told she wasn’t even here,” McClure said.
Not that he minded the extra work. The rumor did wonders in the way of free advertising.
Untold numbers of people — including three high school students from Cabot who missed classes Thursday to attend the dedication — learned that The Edge is a who, not a what.
Those of us who already knew simply swooned once President Bush finally shut up and let him and Bono get on with what was probably the real reason a lot of us stayed out in the rain as long as we did, despite the no-umbrellas rule. (That rule didn’t apply to VIPs, who were supplied them by event organizers.)
Seems like anybody who came downtown last week saw the Rev. Jesse Jackson (he’s the one celeb who actually did stay at the Courtyard), but there’s a street musician, a slow-jams, R&B kind of guitar player, who’s probably the only one who pocketed a $100 tip from him, too.
A whole trolley-load of folks are passing on how they got pulled over by a police car, lights a-flashing, as the River Rail streetcar lumbered down the North Little Rock side of the Main Street Bridge at all of 5 mph. (Something was blocking the tracks ahead, the friendly officer told the red-faced young conductor.)
One woman, part of the celebrity stake-out brigade in front of the Peabody Hotel Wednesday night, will probably kick herself for months for giving up just minutes before Barbra Streisand made an appearance. Insult to injury: A friend who stayed on delivered the news via cell phone right after it happened.
Don’t get us wrong. We like our little stories, but the big picture did just fine too. There weren’t numbers available by press time on exactly how many people passed through the library metal detectors opening weekend or how much dough all those visitors dropped at downtown hotels and restaurants, and we hear the line was longer last Friday to get into the Clinton museum store than to get into the library itself. But Clinton Foundation spokesman Jordan Johnson said opening-weekend turnout was “very heavy,” and we can vouch for the place being packed during the three hours we spent there the day after the dedication.
Throw in free admission and on-site parking, and the crowds Thanksgiving weekend may well be larger. And at least now you can bring an umbrella if it rains.